I started volunteering at the hospital a few weeks ago. I started this job both to figure out whether I wanted to try nursing and to feel like I’m involved in the community. Friends, I am home all of the time. It’s hard to have interesting conversations with Greg and the kids because I see them so much. We need a little mystery, you know?
I volunteer one evening a week, and it is a thrill to come home afterward and not know what the kids ate for dinner or whether Eleanor practiced her spelling words. Never mind that I am spending my evening cleaning hospital rooms and sanitizing toys. When I came home after my first shift, I told Greg that I didn’t think I was going to become a nurse, and he gave me a look that can only be described as “Duh!”
That first shift, I wanted to gag when they trained me to clean hospital rooms. Also, it was humbling. A few months ago, I was interviewing doctors for a Washington Post piece, and now I was a janitor, stripping the sheets off of someone’s hospital bed. I have adjusted pretty quickly. I wear gloves and use a lot of sanitizer. Not my favorite part of the job, obviously. I am moving between three pediatrics units, and I can bring toys to the kids or help entertain healthy siblings. I haven’t done much of this yet because I am still learning my way around.
The janitorial work wasn’t the issue though. The reason I don’t see myself becoming a nurse (and the reason Greg gave me that look) is that I don’t think nursing jibes with my personality. I started keeping a journal when I was 8 years old and wrote in one almost daily through college. I have kept my nose stuffed into books since I was very young. The nurses and paramedics I have met have all been friendly and welcoming, but I still have the feeling that I am in a whole different world that doesn’t quite fit. I realize that with several years of school and training, I could make it fit, but I like my other world with all of the writers and readers.
One insight that I have gotten from the volunteering is that I really do want to return to an office job. Even if I am just a volunteer at the hospital, it is satisfying to feel like I am contributing to a bigger goal.
Yes, I did try to return to work last fall and then fell off the wagon and started freelancing again. I applied for at least 20 jobs then and only heard back about two of them, and those were the two where I knew someone at the company. It was mighty disheartening to write so many cover letters and send so many emails and never hear back. I’m right where I was a year ago, just once more around the sun. This time, I am planning to meet with a career coach. I don’t know whether I’m aiming too high or aiming too low or whether it really is impossible for a sort of stay-at-home-mom to get back into the work force.
A few months ago, I was out with a group of friends, mostly stay-at-home moms, and at the end of the night, one friend asked us what our dream jobs were. This is one of my favorite topics of conversation. I listened: teacher, social worker, teacher. Then it was my turn: writer for National Geographic. One of these things is not like the others. I was born with perhaps more ambition than is good for me, but I’m going to try to look at that as an advantage.
Realistically, I would like to get a job either writing or editing. I’m partial to science and health stories, but I have a lot of interests. I don’t know whether I can call the past five years a mid-life crisis. I just know that I finally have some sense of what I want, and I hope I can get on a path toward that goal.